Anti-vaccination bill defeated, potential concerns remain

J. Michael Bertsch, News and Lifestyles Editor

After anti-vaccination house bill’s defeat, some are still concerned about its lingering effects.

A bill that would make it illegal for South Dakota schools and universities to require students to be vaccinated was defeated 10-2 in the House Committee on Health and Human Services.

South Dakota House Bill 1235 was introduced to the House of Representatives by Rep. Lee Qualm, a Republican from Platte.

The bill targeted early childhood education, public and private K-12 education and institutions of higher education, stating that no program could require any immunization or medical procedure for enrollment or entry.

Another section of HB 1235 attempted to establish the act of  “any educational institution, medical provider or person to compel another to submit to immunization” as a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in prison and $2,000 in fines.

The House Committee on Health and Human Services heard testimony from eight proponents and 26 opponents of HB 1235 at 7:45 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 25.

The committee voted to defer HB 1235 to the 41st legislative day, effectively killing the bill.

Though this bill will not be signed into South Dakota law, it poses the question of how eliminating vaccination requirements would affect SDSU.

For admission into SDSU, provided the student was born after the year 1957, students must have received two doses of immunization against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR).

“All the schools require two MMRs, that’s it,” Brenda Andersen, Associate Director and Family Nurse Practitioner for the Student Health Clinic said. “We assume that most students have received their vaccinations required for elementary and high school.”

The MMR vaccine is kept on hand at the Student Health Center for incoming students. Students have 45 days to receive the vaccinations after initially starting school at a South Dakota university.

One reason for the MMR requirement is how contagious outbreaks of measles, mumps or rubella can be.

“Measles is so contagious that if you had it, I’d probably get it just by sitting in the same room as you,” Andersen said.

Additionally, in 2006 an outbreak of mumps on the University of South Dakota campus caused 150 students who had not received the MMR vaccines to be banned from the campus over finals week.

But, following the language of the recently defeated bill, eliminating vaccine requirements on campus would affect many other areas of the school.

Many healthcare related programs at SDSU, including pharmacy and nursing, require students to receive certain immunizations to participate in clinical application courses at local hospitals.

“We have a number of colleges that offer medical degrees … All of these programs require some form of clinical rotation to complete your degree,” Nathan Lukkes, general counsel for the South Dakota Board of Regents said in his testimony against HB 1235. “All of the places that we house our students in require immunizations for them to go there. So that paints us in a box that we quite frankly can’t get out of.”

To participate in clinical coursework, nursing students are required to be vaccinated for diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, chicken pox, measles, mumps, rubella, receive an annual influenza vaccine and complete tuberculosis skin tests. If these requirements aren’t met, many hospitals would not allow the students to study at their facility.

“Not being able to require vaccines could pose a lot of conflicts between the university and the hospitals,” Moina Syed, SDSU nursing student, said. “It could potentially really damage our nursing program.”

Students who study abroad would also face implications.

Though immunizations are not required by the university to study abroad, many vaccines are encouraged for international travel by the campus health clinic, and, depending on where students travel, certain vaccines are required to re-enter into the United States.

For instance, when traveling to Africa or South America, one must receive the Yellow Fever vaccine before leaving if they want to come back to the United States.

“If we can’t recommend vaccines, some of our citizens wouldn’t be able to travel internationally,” Andersen said.

Other than federal requirements, there are several other reasons that vaccines are recommended for students studying abroad.

“You’re paying $3,000 or $4,000 to go on this trip. Why do you want to go for two weeks, not get immunizations and end up in the hospital there?” Andersen said. “Hepatitis A is a very inexpensive vaccine, and you could end up in the hospital with horrible diarrhea. Why would you want to spend half of your trip like that when you could vaccinate?”

Vaccine recommendations by the Student Health Clinic for students planning to study abroad aim to ensure student experiences are positive. This would be illegal if HB 1235 were to be signed into law.

“I have no doubts that this bill will cause severe harm to our community,” Fernando Bula-Rudas, pediatric infectious disease specialist from Sanford Health said. “As someone who has witnessed children and their families suffering from conditions despite having means to prevent them, I strongly urge this committee to vote against this dangerous House Bill 1235.”

For now, Bula-Rudas’ fear can be put to rest.